Rachel Cusk, “Without Prior Knowledge: Rachel Cusk and Caille Millner in Conversation,” Work in Progress 16 February 2017
To me the central problem with the novel as it still stands is that it’s a bit like London: it’s still a Victorian construct. And that problem has to do with prior knowledge that the novel has, that you enter this world in which things are known by somebody, and yet it’s supposed to look real. So where’s this knowledge coming from? And that’s almost, again, a Victorian, quasi-religious idea that there is some omniscience somewhere, that there is an omniscient narrator, God, that somebody knows what’s going on, and that there’s some meaningful narrative to all of this. So I thought, I’ve got to write a novel where there’s no prior knowledge at all, and having decided that, the form evolved itself, because once you write with that discipline — once you start writing thinking, “Nothing can be known in this text by the narrator” — everything has to be read from the surface. It is incredible how many sentences you can’t write. I’d say about one in fifty sentences, I thought, okay, that I can write, because that is completely, concretely taken from everything that anybody could see if they were walking past. They could see it or hear it.
It’s the reason for a sequel — I mean, Outline said you can be nobody, you can be merely an observer of what happens in front of you and not have to put all of that information into a moral structure — not have to make a story out of it, a story of yourself or a story of anybody else. And that was all very well, but unless you’re then going to dissolve and go up in a puff of smoke, you know, something does have to happen next because you wake up the next morning, and the next morning, and the next morning — and so what this book [Transit] is about is that process, of how you then reattach yourself to life. And part of that is accepting violence, or re-engaging with it, re-engaging with the things that can hurt you.
[See Rachel Cusk.]